When the need arose the Stillwater Salvation Army responded.
As schools and businesses shut down in March and people found themselves out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Salvation Army staff and volunteers went to work feeding people in Stillwater and several surrounding communities. But a suspected electrical fire totaled their canteen truck as it was being driven to Ripley to serve meals on Wednesday, and now the Stillwater Salvation Army needs help to continue serving the people who depend on them.
Lt. Jonathan Flowers and his wife Lt. Sarah Flowers started the feeding program in April and oversaw it until they left Stillwater in June for an appointment with the Conway, Ark. Corps.
It has helped fill the gaps between school and summer programs with weekly hot meals and snacks and monthly boxes from the Salvation Army food pantry, Jonathan Flowers said.
“We literally came back from spring break, sat down with out staff and said, ‘How can we make this happen?’” he said. “We were already in the schools (in some of the outlying towns) delivering food boxes. We had also started talking with them about starting a Shield on Wheels meal service for seniors.”
With help from the United Way of Payne County, they had it up and running by April 1. They also received a grant from the Sarkeys Foundation and developed a partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
The program started in Stillwater and expanded into Yale, Ripley and Agra as the demand in Stillwater slowed.
The Stillwater Corps’ canteen truck, basically a commercial kitchen on wheels, made it possible to serve hot and cold meals and deliver monthly boxes from the Salvation Army food pantry.
Jonathan Flowers said he saw a large number of people with handicapped parking permits and who were elderly or seemed to have mobility issues during the weekly stops at the Agra Senior Citizens Center. He’s not sure they would be in a position to make the 30-40 minute drive to Stillwater to access services.
Yale City Manager and Chief of Police Phillip Kelly was distressed when he learned about the fire, because people in his community need the services the Salvation Army has been providing. He said people had already been asking him if they would be back next week.
“It helps a lot of people, including low-income people and people who have been laid off due to COVID-19,” Kelly said. “It’s also been helping to feed older kids, teenagers who don’t qualify for the school’s summer feeding program.”
Lt. Nic Arroqui, who had just taken over the Stillwater Corps office with his wife Lt. Emily Arroqui on Monday, said he is scrambling to find a way to continue the feeding program.
His goal is to have something that can be used for food distribution by Monday.
He planned to work through the holiday weekend in the hope of finding a canteen unit that could be loaned to the Stillwater Corps until its canteen can be replaced. A new canteen costs about $85,000.
“It’s not just disasters,” Arroqui said. “It’s used all the time. Our volunteers also drove it as a mobile unit that let’s us bring services to people who might not be able to get to our office.”
Arroqui said he was in Stillwater, working at the Salvation Army’s Family Store, when he heard about the fire. He rushed to the scene and was relieved to find that none of the staff had been hurt.
He was touched when, as shaken up as they were, their biggest concern was figuring out how they could still feed the people.
That’s the Stillwater Corps’ short-term focus.
Arroqui said it costs about $200 per day to serve each community.
They average 225 meals in Yale, 350 in Agra, 203 in Ripley and 210 in Stillwater per week.
The United Way has given the Salvation Army $3,000 in emergency funding and that should be enough to keep serving meals for two to three more weeks, Arroqui said.
But he hopes to continue through the summer, at least until kids are back in school and can eat there.
That’s going to take more financial support.
People wanting to donate to the cause can contact Lt. Nic or Lt. Emily Arroqui at the Stillwater Corps Office, 1101 S. Lowry St. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can also call 405-372-1554.